On Grief and Discomfort.
I was talking with my girlfriends about discomfort. Specifically, we’ve been exploring how to manage ourselves when we’re supporting someone who’s dealing with grief or depression.
I shared a quote I’d recently discovered: “Want to help a grieving friend? Let them be sad. The thing is, you can’t cheer someone up by telling them to look on the bright side or by giving them advice. Your job, honestly, is to feel awkward and just stay there anyway. Just hang right out with their pain.” There. This part:
Your job is to feel awkward and just stay there anyway.
Someone finally put a finger on that feeling I sometimes get when I’m unsure how to be supportive in a difficult situation. And someone finally gave me permission to feel that way. And not to have a solution.
Just be okay with feeling awkward. I love it.
Admittedly, I have been clumsy with this in the past. For someone whose lost so many people all throughout my life, I am still able to recognize my discomfort when I’m sitting with another who is grieving. There is that moment where I think ‘it’s silent, I need to say something, I need to offer something’. Not every time, but many times. It never occurred to me that this could unconsciously communicate to the griever that they’re somehow grieving incorrectly, which of course I do not feel. It took work for me to understand that quietly holding space was also a deep and powerful form of love which didn’t have requirements on how I show up or the words I say. In fact, it’s often more powerful when I don’t say anything at all. No one taught me this. I have been learning through painful experiences; clumsily, but learning.
We all need to learn how to sit with discomfort. We haven’t been taught how to be accepting of pain, depression, death, discomfort. We were taught to hide those things away. To put on a happy face. To come up with words of encouragement and strength. To let death and dying be left to the clinical, starchy, bleached rooms where the doctors will take care of the ugly, messy stuff.
This is tricky business, being uncomfortable. But I believe we come by it honestly through cultural conditioning and a myriad of other reasons. It has been ingrained in us to be positive, because everything else is considered negative or bad. I’ve found, however, that when we’re less tied to our expectation about any situation, we offer it the space to simply be whatever it is. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Clean or messy. It just is what it is. And that is okay.